Member of Parliament for Darlington
HM Government

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Alan M, MP for Darlington

0:02 I’m Alan Milburn and I’m the Member of Parliament for Darlington, and I’m chairing the panel that the Prime Minister has asked me to chair on access to the professions. Politics is, I mean, look, it’s many things, but in the end it boils down to something simple, at least from my point of view. It’s about what you believe in and how you can translate the ideas that you believe in and the values that you have into positive change that makes a difference in people’s lives.

00:31 I grew up in a small, old mining village in County Durham called Tow Law. I grew up there on a council estate and I was raised by my mum. I didn’t know my dad. So, the biggest influence in my life was undoubtedly my mother. And she, I think, you know, she had very high aspirations for me, you know, she wanted me to do well, encouraged me to do well, and some of my teachers, particularly at my first school, were similarly very, very encouraging, and a huge influence on me I think.

01:04 I wanted to have a good time at university. That’s basically what I wanted to do. I studied history, which was great, I really loved that at Lancaster, and then from Lancaster I went on to Newcastle to do a PhD. I must say I found the PhD doing a doctorate much less enticing, partially because it’s just a very, very lonely way of life, you know, you’re sort of, you’re on your own, you’re doing it by yourself, it’s your own research, you’re sat in the Public Record Office and you do that for days on end. And in the end, that wasn’t me.

01:31 My first big job was working in a radical bookshop, called Days of Hope Bookshop, and we sold all manner of left wing literature, books and magazines and papers and badges and so on and so forth. And it was great.

01:48 Where I came from, growing up on a council estate, brought up by a single mum, being a Member of Parliament? That would have been a very, very odd thing to aspire to. The thing that made me change my mind is that, in the late eighties, I was running a campaign to try to keep open the shipyards in Sunderland.

02:07 We had a fantastically good case for keeping it open, and we lost. And two and a half thousand people lost their jobs and many more lost their jobs as a consequence of the yard’s closing. And it was closed for one reason. It was closed because of a political decision. And I suppose what I realised at that point, is that you could have the best argument in the world, you know, you could have the best case in the world, but unless you were on the inside rather than the outside, you would never make change happen.

02:33 I never had this sort of view of myself as somebody who was, you know, deeply thrusting ambitious, wanting this, wanting that, wanting to be Prime Minister, wanting to be leader of the Labour Party. You know, I just thought of…thought that the opportunities I had were great and I was getting on with them and I was really enjoying what I was doing, and hopefully making a difference and producing change that was for the better of the country.

02:54 But the other aspect of my life was at least as important, and that was my own family. So it came down to a very simple choice, which is, ‘was I going to continue in politics or was I going to see my kids grow up?’ And the answer for me as a sort of no-brainer. I know it surprised people at the time, and it’s sort of regarded as a fairly unusual thing to do, but it’s a decision that I’ve never ever regretted for a single moment. You know, I have a very, very close relationship with my family and with my kids, and, you know, frankly, probably, if I’d continued as a full time Cabinet Minister, that would have been more difficult.

03:35 I’ve never had a great life plan. I have been incredibly lucky and fortunate in my life, and there are opportunities that have come along, and I’ve been able very fortunately to seize them. So I feel, in a sense I feel very, very blessed with the opportunities that I’ve had. And, you know, going with the flow a bit is, you know, at least if you’ve got my personality type, it’s probably no bad thing.

Alan Milburn grew up on council estate in a small village in Durham and describes being an MP a “very odd thing to aspire to” as a child. But when he became involved in running a campaign to keep open the shipyards in Sunderland in the late eighties Alan discovered that he needed to be “on the inside” to really make change happen. He has been a Member of Parliament for Darlington since 1992.

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? Elected representatives in national government formulate and ratify legislation and government policy, act as elected representatives in Parliament, European Parliament, Regional Parliaments or Assemblies, and as representatives of the government and its executive. Elected officers in local government act as representatives in the local authority and participate in the formulation, ratification and implementation of local government policies.
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